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Universities: Duke, Professors of Practice and Strategic Directions

Duke University's Professors of Practice is an interesting approach to improving the educational environment for student [Note: this entry is an extension of a comment left by Chris in Universities:Teaching The Textbook]. I also took note that the Executive Summary: University Strategic Plan contains a number of valuable strategic directions. For example...

I believe this is one key page for Professors of Practice at Duke University. Chris noted in his comment that, "Duke University has a specialized faculty position called the Professor of the Practice. These individuals concentrate on teaching. While they do receive higher pay and longer term contracts than adjunct faculty, they are not eligible for tenure."

What this means is engaging with the real world is not eligible for tenure.

I noted this comment by Phillip Cook in the Chronicle (2002):

The Chronicle endorsed what it took to be the recommendation of the external review committee that public policy studies reduce the number of professors of the practice--in part, the editors opined, because "focusing on exposure to real-world problems and building contacts in professional fields is not the mission of this University." I find this view of undergraduate education remarkably narrow.

To say that this view is "remarkably narrow" is an act of kindness. The view is really remarkably stupid. Phillip's conclusion is apt:

Of course the public policy curriculum also offers the grounding in theory and methods necessary for sophisticated policy analysis. We are committed to increasing the number of advanced electives. But there is no reason, financial or otherwise, why this commitment should come at the expense of real-world engagement.

In addition, the mission statement of Duke seems to support Phillip:

By pursuing these objectives with vision and integrity, Duke University seeks to engage the mind, elevate the spirit, and stimulate the best effort of all who are associated with the University; to contribute in diverse ways to the local community, the state, the nation and the world; and to attain and maintain a place of real leadership in all that we do.

Yet, here we again face an apparent gap between words and action. And the fear of interacting with the real world parades on.


Be Among the Best Universities at Integrating Teaching, Learning and Research
Our efforts at better integrating teaching and research will focus on increasing participation of undergraduates in intensive research projects; increasing vertical integration among different teaching and research strata within the University; implementing Curriculum 2000; and improving the environment and campus culture for undergraduate and graduate students and their better integration into the goals of intellectual and human development.

The integration of research and the undergraduate experience is vital. And, in an area commonly avoided by universities, we see a strategic direction to better integrate intellectual and human development. However, what "human development" means is not readily apparent, but I may have missed it in the documentation.

Promote Major Multidisciplinary and Interdisciplinary Programs
Our assessment of the external environment in which we operate has shown a fast-increasing focus on multidisciplinary programs, where teams of investigators from a variety of disciplines come together to solve important problems. We will strive to increase our grant support from interdisciplinary programs; work to better manage our centers; and increase coordination with other institutions in the Research Triangle.

Underlying this is the need to share experiences openly. The challenge of a multidisciplinary or interdicsiplinary is integrity and unity. I have seen programs at universities that are called multi/interdisciplinary, but really are nothing more than a body of content that has been divided into various topics each delivered to a class by an expert in that topic. In programs like these, there is no real underlying integrity, expcet that which the students themselves are able to figure out on their own. However, is an important problem (not a curriculum) does authentically become the origin of the course, and various experts are able to coordinate their perspective in a unified manner, then interesting things can happen.

It would be nice to see "supra-disciplinary" programs - ah, there's a truly ugly term. But perhaps there's more out there than merely mixing pre-existing subject discipline elements together.

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